Friday, June 13, 2008

David Retrieves the Ark: 2 Samuel 6-7

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

With David's own legitimacy firmly established in battle, it's time to worry about God's place in Israel. (Recall that in the new system, for better or worse, the priests, and thus religion, has been subordinated to the state.)

Since its recovery from the Philistines, the Ark has been sitting in a rural town, so David summons thirty thousand troops and marches down to get it. The ark is reverently placed on a cart and hauled off, and here's where things get a little strange. At one point the oxen stumble and, concerned that the Ark may topple off the cart, one of David's men, Uzzah, tries to steady it. God is apparently infuriated by this transgression and immediately kills Uzzah. Angry and a little frightened by this development, David drops off the Ark at the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. But Obed-Edom gets "blessed" by God for having the Ark, so David promptly goes down and gets the Ark again. He brings it into Jerusalem in a truly gruesome parade, which sacrifices a bull and a calf every six steps. David "leaps and dances" in the front of the procession, causing his wife to rebuke him for behaving like a fool. (David doesn't care, saying he can afford to be "undignified" in the service of God.)

The reduction of God to magic charm here is a little strange. Theoretically we could say that God killed Uzzah because it was against the rules for anyone moving the Ark to actually touch it (this was covered back in Exodus or Numbers, I can't remember which) - and indeed evangelicals often do that, suggesting Uzzah was disobedient. I'm not buying that, though - there's one hell of a lot of disobedience going on here, beginning with the fact that the wrong tribe is moving the Ark. God isn't usually concerned with striking people dead for disobedience anymore. There's also no good reason why Obed-Edom ought to be blessed - he hasn't done anything except live in proximity to the Ark. In a religion that is usually very short on magic relics, the Ark is a strange exception.

Back in Jerusalem, David decides that it's time to properly honour God by building him a home. His intentions actually seem honourable here - if he's living in a palace, God should too - if a little misguided, because, as God points out through his prophet Nathan, God has never asked for a house, and doesn't particularly need one. (If that's true, why is God's presence so centered on the Ark?) Still, God is impressed, and promises to make David's house endure as kings of Israel, and give to one of David's sons the responsibility for creating the promised home of God. David responds with a very long prayer praising God to the skies.